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Dublin: 3°C Monday 1 March 2021

'Modern day slavery' to be criminalised

Alan Shatter defined the term ‘forced labour’ in the new Human Trafficking Bill.

Image: Hand Gesturing Stop via Shutterstock

A DECISION BY the government to outlaw forced labour, or modern day slavery, has been welcomed this evening.

The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), which has campaigned for the change for a number of years, said it “very much welcomes this legal amendment”.

“Forced labour is on the increase and without such a law, victims are not protected,” the organisation said in a statement. “Our experience is that victims will not come forward if there are not clear protections, rights and supports in place.”

Fauziah Shaari, a victim of forced labour, added, “We have fought hard for the law to be changed. I suffered at the hands of my employer. I was treated as a slave.

“I still have not found justice. The change in the law will help other victims to come forward and will make sure employers involved in forced labour will be punished.”

The change will bring Irish law in line with its commitments under the International Labour Organisation Convention No. 29 of 1930 on Forced or Compulsory Labour.

Gráinne O’Toole of MRCI said this “sends a strong message to employers” that the inhuman treatment of workers will not be tolerated by the State.

According to the definition of modern day slavery, it is an extreme form of exploitation that involves deception, coercion, threats, physical harm and/or debt bondage.

MRCI have dealt with more than 179 cases of forced labour over the past six years. Currently, victims are not recognised as victims of crime and the perpetrators are not criminalised. But when the proposed law is implemented, perpetrators of forced labour could face maximum sentences of up to life imprisonment.

The change comes as part of Alan Shatter’s newly-published Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Bill. The general scheme has been forwarded to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel for drafting, the Justice Minister announced earlier today.

He said the short piece of legislation was required to “transpose in full the substantive criminal law measures in an EU directive on human trafficking.

The directive provides for the criminalisation of trafficking for the purposes of forced begging and trafficking for criminal activities. Neither form of exploitation is covered by existing law.

Shatter explained:

In order to tackle recent developments in the phenomenon of trafficking in human beings, the EU directive adopts a broader concept of what should be considered human trafficking than previously…Human trafficking is an abhorrent abuse of human rights and our legislation must keep pace with global developments in this heinous crime.

He added: “I am also taking this opportunity, in the interest of clarity, to define the term ‘forced labour’ as used in the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. The term is not explicitly defined in the 2008 legislation. The general scheme provides that ‘forced labour’ has the same meaning as it has in International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 29 of 1930 on Forced or Compulsory Labour.  The ILO definition is ‘all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the person has not offered himself voluntarily’.”

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